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Controversies & Commanders: Dispatches from the Army of the Potomac

Controversies & Commanders: Dispatches from the Army of the Potomac

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Controversies & Commanders: Dispatches from the Army of the Potomac

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Nov 4, 2014


An in-depth look at the Union force that went up against Robert E. Lee, from “a master storyteller and leading Civil War historian” (Kirkus Reviews).
From an award-winning military historian and the bestselling author of Gettysburg, this is a wide-ranging collection of essays about the Army of the Potomac, delving into such topics as Professor Lowe’s reconnaissance balloons; the court-martial of Fitz John Porter; the Lost Order at Antietam; press coverage of the war; the looting of Fredericksburg; the Mud March; the roles of volunteers, conscripts, bounty jumpers, and foreign soldiers; the notorious Gen. Dan Sickles, who shot his wife’s lover outside the White House; and two generals who were much maligned: McClellan (justifiably) and Hooker (not so justifiably).
This lively book follows the Army of the Potomac throughout the war, from 1861 to 1865, painting a remarkable portrait of the key incidents and personalities that influenced the course of our nation’s greatest cataclysm.
Nov 4, 2014

Sobre el autor

STEPHEN W. SEARS is the author of many award-winning books on the Civil War, including Gettysburg and Landscape Turned Red. A former editor at American Heritage, he lives in Connecticut.

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Controversies & Commanders - Stephen W. Sears


Copyright © 1999 by Stephen W. Sears

All rights reserved

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.com or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.


The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:

Sears, Stephen W.

Controversies and commanders : dispatches from the Army of

the Potomac / Stephen W. Sean,

p. cm.

Includes index.

ISBN: 978-0-618-05706-1

1. United States—History—Civil War, 1861–1865—Anecdotes. 2. United States. Army of the Potomac—Anecdotes. 3. United States—History—Civil War, 1861–1865—Biography. 4. United States. Army of the Potomac—Biography. I. United States.

Army of the Potomac. II. Title.

E468.9.S43 1999

973 7’3—dc21 98-37736 CIP

The Stone, Porter, and Lost Order essays originally appeared, in somewhat different form, in MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.


National Archives: Stone, Porter, Stanton, Hooker, Dahlgren, Kilpatrick. Library of Congress: General and Mrs. McClellan, Lincoln and McClellan, Sickles, Warren. U.S. Army Military History Institute: Smith and Franklin.

eISBN 978-0-544-39123-9


For Sally, as always


THE HIGH COMMAND of the Army of the Potomac was a changeable and frequently disjointed collection of men. It was a rare moment indeed when the generals of the Union’s principal army marched in step, or even in the same direction. A number of them all too often appeared to be fighting against rather than for the administration in Washington that employed them. Every Civil War army had its share of controversies, to be sure, but the Potomac army’s controversies were unique. This book examines ten incidents of war as waged by the Army of the Potomac in which controversy and commanders were spoken in the same breath.

Three of these essays were originally written for MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History; they have been recast here as necessary to fit my present purposes. The remaining seven were written especially for this book. The selection of subject matter is of course subjective. These incidents, and these commanders, seemed to me worthy of more investigation than they have had previously. My findings, it will be noted, do not always align with conventional wisdom.

It is entirely fitting to begin a Civil War work titled Controversies & Commanders with something on General McClellan. Certainly no Northern commander in that war was regarded, in his own time, as more controversial. Because of my close connection with McClellan—as his biographer, as editor of his papers, as a chronicler of his two major campaigns—I have as a matter of course evaluated what historians have written about the general over the last century or so. This opening essay offers the fruits of that evaluation.

For much of this century, it seems that in appraising McClellan his biographers took one path while general historians of the war took another. Never the twain did meet. General McClellan was, to the former, simply the shield of the Union. To the latter he was simply (as Kenneth P. Williams famously put it) an attractive but vain and unstable man, with considerable military knowledge, who sat a horse well and wanted to be President. Surely there is a truth to be found somewhere between these extremes. I suggest here that whatever misunderstandings may still exist regarding the general and his place in Civil War history, they may be resolved by studying individually the varied roles he played. The primary need for today’s historian, I would argue, is to understand that when he stepped on a battlefield George McClellan became a totally different person—not a real warrior general after all (and therefore probably like most of the rest of us).

In sharp contrast to General McClellan, there has never been any debate over what Civil War historians without exception agree was the ordeal of General Stone. The military establishment’s treatment of Charles P. Stone was by any measure a disgrace. A divisional commander under McClellan in the Army of the Potomac, Stone became, according to T. Harry Williams, the innocent principal of the American Dreyfus case. Accused of disloyalty and treason, General Stone was confined in military prison (without any actual charge) for more than six months. Considering the fact that this was a full-fledged civil war, in a nation riven by divided loyalties, it is in fact surprising that the Stone case was the only one of its kind. But in a land of liberty one such case was enough.

That Charles Stone was the victim of an out-of-control congressional investigative committee, a cynically vindictive secretary of war, and a faint-hearted army command is well known. But it has not previously been known that the trigger that sent General Stone to grim Fort Lafayette was pulled by a conspiratorial band of plotters from his own command. The whole business, said a wartime editor, formed the worst blot of its kind on the Union cause.

The Stone case is followed here by an accounting of an even more famous instance of military justice (or injustice), the court-martial of Major General Fitz John Porter. Like Stone, Porter was the victim of a secret agenda concocted by his accusers. In his court-martial that opened in December 1862, Porter was charged with eight counts of disobedience of orders and misbehavior before the enemy during the Battle of Second Bull Run. From deep in the shadows, however, came the hidden accusation that Fitz John Porter was the visible representation of what was then being called McClellanism, a disease defined by detractors of that deposed general as bad blood and paralysis infecting much of the Army of the Potomac’s officer corps. How this accusation influenced the selection of the officers sitting in judgment of Porter, and how it influenced their decision in the case, is examined here in detail. Also traced is the tortuous postwar path of the Porter case. While General Porter’s cashiering may have been an injustice, at the time it may be said that a certain rough justice was also rendered, to the ultimate benefit of the Army of the Potomac.

September Crisis presents a cautionary tale: How General McClellan got his army back when no one—absolutely no one—in the War Department or in the administration wanted that to happen. It marks the strangest episode in the command history of the Army of the Potomac. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton had vowed McClellan must go, and he was willing to break up the administration over the issue. Just how far Stanton and his Cabinet allies managed to go with their remonstrance, and the searing effect of their efforts on Mr. Lincoln, receives a new telling here.

With his genius for getting to the nub of the issue, Lincoln recognized that after the Second Bull Run debacle the army might very well not fight again for anyone other than McClellan. Thus the president, very much against his better judgment, returned the army to General McClellan. What ensued was Little Mac’s finest hour. Here was not McClellan the deeply flawed warrior general but McClellan the highly expert executive general; this was what he did best. He pulled together and patched together a single army out of a rabble of separate armies and independent commands, rebuilt its command system, and reinvigorated its morale. Then he set it on the road that led to Antietam Creek.

The next essay, when it appeared in MHQ, bore the overly optimistic title The Last Word on the Lost Order. Here it is retitled Last Words on the Lost Order, and I limit the implied finality to merely my last words on the subject. If history is any guide, no doubt there are others with last words yet to be written on this subject.

The losing—and the finding—of General Lee’s operational orders for the Maryland campaign in September 1862 represented for the Union the intelligence coup of the war. It also generated, and continues to generate, all manner of controversies. Many of these deal with matters of detail, which I hope this detailed accounting will settle. The paramount question, involving as it does the very conduct of the Battle of Antietam, is: When did General Lee learn of the loss of his operational orders? The conclusive answer, as I argue here, was not before the battle but only months afterward.

It may surprise to be told that in fact General Lee could have learned of the Lost Order within just forty-eight hours of its finding. In one of the strangest twists in this twisted story (kindly passed on to me by Edwin C. Fishel, the expert on Civil War intelligence), the Federáis’ finding of the Lost Order was promptly reported on the front page of the New York Herald for September 15, two days before the Antietam battle. How, we may ask, could that particular issue of the Herald, containing the greatest press leak of the war, have escaped the eye of General Lee, who regularly read Northern newspapers for all the military leaks they contained? An answer to that would perhaps resolve one of the final mysteries of the Lost Order.

The Revolt of the Generals is the first in-depth look at an especially unsavory chapter in the history of the Army of the Potomac’s high command. This revolt was a shadowy conspiracy within the army’s officer corps that commenced in the aftermath of the Peninsula campaign and disbanded just before Gettysburg with the appointment of General Meade to head the Potomac army. The early months were marked mostly by unfocused discontent. It was the dismissal of General McClellan, ordered by the president on November 5, 1862, that energized the dissidents. Burnside’s defeat at Fredericksburg in December then furnished a specific target: General Burnside. Undermining Burnside relentlessly until he could no longer command effectively, the generals’ revolt claimed its first victim. Elation was short-lived, however, when instead of the much-anticipated return of McClellan the dissidents saw Joe Hooker get the command.

Hooker pressed overdue reforms on the Army of the Potomac, but he gained the allegiance of few of his lieutenants. A veteran intriguer himself, Hooker was probably not surprised when his corps commanders turned on him after the Chancellorsville defeat. This time the dissidents saw General Meade, their own candidate, gain the command in Hooker’s place, and the generals’ revolt withered away.

The case of Fighting Joe Hooker is a good example of the need to double-check the conventional wisdom on any subject, particularly (in this instance) when it comes to historians’ footnotes. Thus we discover that Joe Hooker, general commanding, did not lose his nerve in battle as we had been led to believe. Nor was he a drunkard. To be sure, Joe Hooker did not rate high as a gentleman (as gentlemen of that day defined the term), and he talked far too much and too bluntly. But he could fight, and in the Union’s Civil War armies that was a much-needed skill. Mr. Lincoln, speaking of Hooker after Chancellorsville, remarked that he did not like to throw away a gun just because it misfired once, yet in the end Hookers potential for battlefield command was never fully tapped. In Defense of Fighting Joe is intended to at least salvage the generals military reputation.

And then there is Dan Sickles—Sickles the Incredible, as his biographer labels him with perfect accuracy. Sickles’s reputation was terrible. He was a political general who always knew precisely which political strings to pull, and he rocketed from raising a regiment to command of a corps in the Army of the Potomac with exactly one afternoon’s worth of battle-leading—which he did badly. At Chancellorsville he floundered about far beyond his depth, but was anointed a hero in the newspapers—a hero literally made by scribblers, growled fellow general Alpheus Williams. At Gettysburg Sickles lost a leg and his corps was wrecked, and controversy over his role on that battlefield persists to this day. Dan Sickles, political general, personified the Peter Principle before it was invented.

The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid on Richmond, before the opening of the spring campaign of 1864, was on the face of it just one more dismal failure by the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry arm. Fatefully, however, the young and inexperienced Colonel Ulric Dahlgren carelessly took his notes and planning papers for the raid along with him, and they fell into the Confederates’ hands. The chilling message of murder and pillage contained in these papers created a sensation and a lasting controversy. Today the authenticity of the Dahlgren papers can be confirmed; furthermore, grim evidence points to a link between the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren plot against President Davis and the plot, a year later, against President Lincoln. I have had the benefit of historian James O. Hall’s wisdom concerning this complex incident, although I alone am responsible for the conclusions stated here regarding the roles of Judson Kilpatrick and Secretary of War Stanton in the raid.

The concluding essay offers a fresh look at what would appear to be the most inexplicable high-command decision in the history of the Army of the Potomac—the sacking of corps commander Gouverneur Warren at, almost literally, the moment of the war’s final victory. Five Forks, west of Petersburg, on April 1, 1865, was an overwhelming Union triumph. Phil Sheridan commanded, but it was Warrens corps that gained the day, at which point Sheridan sent Warren to the rear in disgrace. This was in fact an event waiting to happen, and it reveals much about the inner workings of the Potomac army during the Grant-Meade era. Historian Chris Calkins’s insight into this period is gratefully acknowledged.

The upheaval caused by the Warren case, like the Fitz John Porter case, would reverberate through the army for some two decades. Gouverneur Warren (again like Porter) was a prideful disciple of General McClellan—or, to some, a lasting symbol of the disease of McClellanism—and with this accounting of his fate these dispatches from the Army of the Potomac come full circle. McClellan’s connection with so many of the figures mentioned here forms an almost continuous thread through these pages. George McClellan, as it were, fathered the Army of the Potomac, and while his command of it ceased before the war reached its halfway point, his influence on its high command, for good or ill, lasted through to Appomattox.


Little Mac and the Historians

Major General and Mrs. George B. McClellan

IN THE WORST OF TIMES—especially in the worst of times—General George B. McClellan had never a doubt that vindication would be his in the eyes of the Muse Clio. As he wrote his wife, on an occasion when he was feeling particularly scorned by the administration in Washington, Well—one of these days history will I trust do me justice in deciding that it was not my fault that the campaign of the Peninsula was not successful. After he was relieved of command of the Army of the Potomac, in November 1862, the Springfield Republican reported, The McClellan excitement has wholly died out. He seems willing to await the decision of history as to his brief military career.

Since that time historians in some numbers have taken up McClellan’s challenge. Being a latter-day biographer of the general, and the editor of his papers, I regard their findings as worthy of analysis. It seems that over the last century and a third, historians have come down on every side of the McClellan question concerning not only his Peninsula campaign but the rest of his remarkably varied wartime career as well.

To be sure, not all the McClellan biographers (including this one) and not all the more general commentators on his career have been professional historians. Yet at least some of the volunteers in the trade (including this one) have conscientiously applied accepted standards of historical analysis to their efforts and are entitled to seats alongside the regulars on what historian Joseph L. Harsh has labeled the McClellan-Go-Round.¹

One way to attract biographers is to run for president. History is seldom served by these campaign biographies, however, and that is certainly true in McClellan’s case. Of the half-dozen potboilers that appeared during the 1864 campaign, one only may be regarded as authorized—a Life and Campaigns of . . . effort by G. S. Hillard that was optimistically scheduled for publication one day before the Democratic convention would name its nominee. Hillard had been granted an interview by the prospective candidate, which provides the latter-day biographer with details of McClellan’s early life not available elsewhere; otherwise Hillard slides back into the ruck of campaign-biography mediocrity.²

During the 1864 campaign much of what was written about General McClellan (both for him and against him) in books, pamphlets, and newspapers drew inspiration from the general’s Report on the Organization of the Army of the Potomac, and of Its Campaigns in Virginia and Maryland, the 242-page official account of his time as army commander. McClellan designed the Report with some care to be his final draft for history. It is better described as a very rough first draft. The New York Times waxed sarcastic, calling it "nothing less than the Military Memoirs of George B. McClellan, printed at the expense of the government."

Buttressed with numerous, carefully selected documents, the Report leaves no doubt that everything untoward that happened during these months could not be blamed on the general commanding. As James Russell Lowell observed in the North American Review, General McClellan makes affidavit in one volume octavo that he is a great military genius, after all. The Peninsula campaign, for one prime example, was lost to an enemy wielding vastly greater numbers—vastly greater because the radical Republican administration in Washington adamantly scorned to support or to reinforce the Army of the Potomac and its commander. A New York publisher made the Report available to voters in a low-cost edition, and McClellan autographed a special oversized deluxe edition for friends and supporters. The still-lingering legend of George McClellan as savior of the Union has its origin in his Report.³

During his time of command, the general had gone to some effort to preserve for his own use the raw materials of the history he was making. He sent copies of important documents to his wife, Ellen, which (as he told her) I wish you to keep as my record. He explained why: They will show, with the others you have, that I was true to my country, that I understood the state of affairs long ago, & that had my advice been followed we should not have been in our present difficulties. . . . When relieved of command, he took away with him the entire headquarters archives of the Army of the Potomac for the period August 1861 to November 1862. The manuscript of his Report went to the War Department in August 1863 accompanied by the official reports of his subordinates—and that was all. He retained everything else of the Potomac army’s archives, numbering in the thousands of pieces, as his personal property. As he saw it, only reports written officially for the government, by him or by his lieutenants, belonged to the government. With the exception of a few papers relating to the western Virginia campaign of 1861 that he made available, and a few dispatch books loaned to the Official Records project after his death, the McClellan papers remained unseen in family hands until presented to the Library of Congress in 1911 and 1916.

Following his defeat in the presidential election, McClellan resigned his commission and sailed for Europe. The Young Napoleon, said observers, was accepting exile as his fate. By the time he returned to America in 1868, wartime passions had cooled. He made a comfortable living as an engineering consultant and served as elder statesman of the Democratic party. But his determination to seek the vindication of history remained as strong as ever. During his European exile he had begun a memoir—the secret history, he called it, of my connection with Lincoln, Stanton, Chase etc.; it may be valuable for history one of these days. By 1881 he had finished his memoir, but during a six-month stay in Europe the single copy, left in New York for safekeeping, was destroyed by fire. Undaunted, he began work anew on what would be published posthumously, in 1887, as McClellan’s Own Story.

This book, which contrary to McClellan’s intentions put a blight on his military reputation, would remain something of a puzzle to historians and biographers for more than a century. Here was a memoir presented as McClellan’s considered and final testament on the Civil War and his role in it, yet it appeared that the general had simply ignored everything factual learned from the records of the war in the two decades between 1865 and his death in 1885. Never was there a controversial work in which the other side was more calmly ignored, wrote John C. Ropes in a review of McClellan’s Own Story. . . . It is impossible to get up much sympathy for General McClellan. And we do not think that this book of his will raise him in the opinion of his countrymen. It was an accurate prophecy. Seventy years later, historian Allan Nevins would remark, Students of history must always be grateful that McClellan so frankly exposed his own weaknesses in this posthumous book.

It is known now that in fact poor McClellan was betrayed by his literary executor, William C. Prime. Wartime editor of the rabidly pro-McClellan New York Journal of Commerce, Prime let his partisanship and his devotion to the general run away with him in seeing into print McClellan’s side of the story. The general had left not even half a manuscript, with much of that only in early draft form and undergoing revision at the time of his sudden death. Prime took this as it was, undid some of the revisions, and patched together the balance of the book from McClellan writings that went back twenty years and more, much of it from the 1864 Report. Not content with this hodgepodge, he then added excerpts from some 250 of McClellan’s wartime letters to his wife. In these letters to Ellen it had been the general’s habit to pour out his innermost feelings and opinions in unbridled fashion; at their publication McClellan surely turned over in his grave. Although Prime deleted or censored the most inflammatory of McClellan’s views, enough remained, writes Joseph Harsh, that historians, finding the letters offensive, . . . read them as candid glimpses of the character flaws which foredoomed the General’s military career.

The general’s death, and the subsequent publication of McClellan’s Own Story, inspired several of McClellan’s contemporaries to prepare articles of reminiscence and analysis. For The Century General James B. Fry wrote McClellan and His ‘Mission,’ a commentary on the general’s messianic vision of saving the Union, a vision mentioned frequently in the letters to Ellen printed in Story. Former staff officer William F. Biddle furnished more admiring Recollections of McClellan for the professional military journal United Service Magazine. George Ticknor Curtis, a staunch friend and political adviser of McClellan’s, wrote uncritically of his generalship in McClellan’s Last Service to the Republic (1886), appropriately subtitled A Tribute to His Memory.

The first true biography of the general was not published until 1901—Peter S. Michie’s General McClellan, in Appleton’s Great Commanders series. Michie had been a respected engineering officer during the war, and his is the only in-depth appraisal of McClellan the soldier written by a fellow soldier. It is especially valuable on that score. Michie coolly evaluated the claims in the Report and McClellan’s Own Story against the realities in the Official Records. While finding enough of value in McClellan’s overall war record to fit him in among the Great Commanders, Michie could be unsparing as well. He delivered a stinging soldier’s verdict, for example, on General McClellan’s conduct at Glendale and Malvern Hill during the Seven Days. On June 30 and July 1, 1862, the general commanding literally fled these two Peninsula battlefields, boarding the gunboat Galena for useless excursions on the James and each day leaving his army to get out of its scrape (to use a favorite expression of his) as best it could. The term Michie used for the general’s actions in these battles was astounding. Michie concluded his account of Glendale and Malvern Hill with words of caution for future McClellan biographers: every explanation . . . put forward by his defenders must ever be in the nature of an unsatisfactory apology.

An oddity among McClellan biographies is James Havelock Campbell’s bravely titled McClellan: A Vindication of the Military Career of General George B. McClellan (1916). Campbell, a law school dean, described his work as a lawyer’s brief, and it is all of that—a defense lawyer’s brief. If General McClellan turned over in his grave after what William Prime inflicted on his memoir, then probably he again rested peacefully when Campbell’s book appeared. Turning to Campbell’s account of Glendale and Malvern Hill, we find that General McClellan on these battlefields was wise, prudent, brave, skilful, with a mind which grasped everything down to the minutest detail and with an energy which governed all.

William Starr Myers, a Princeton historian, was the first to mount a scholarly biographical effort to capture the general’s life between covers and the first to utilize the McClellan papers deposited in the Library of Congress. Myers titled his 1934 work General George Brinton McClellan: A Study in Personality. In his preface he confessed to slighting the military side of McClellan’s story (Myers identified himself as a professor of politics), for I am fully aware of my own limitations in technical knowledge in this field. This indeed proved a handicap in writing the biography of a general. Nevertheless, Myers found the McClellan papers a rich source for exploring the personality of his subject. The figure that emerges from this effort is morally upright, stainlessly honorable, and politically naive. Surprisingly for a professor of politics, Myers exhibited a naiveté of his own in his depiction of George McClellan, presidential candidate, as a feckless innocent.¹⁰

Two biographies published on the eve of World War II contributed nothing in particular to a clearer understanding of the general. Clarence E. Macartney’s Little Mac (1940), thinly researched, is wholly unexceptional. H. J. Eckenrode and Bryan Conrad, authors of the forthrightly titled George B. McClellan: The Man Who Saved the Union (1941), set out to prove, they write in their foreword, that their subject was a great general and that he has been underestimated by historians. Their technique was in all cases to take McClellan’s word for it: Nothing that happened was his fault; it was all a plot against him directed by his enemies in Washington.¹¹

Starting around 1950, as Civil War scholarship was stimulated by the approaching centennial, most authors of general histories of the war or of the campaigns diverged sharply from the McClellan biographers in their handling of the generals role in the conflict. This was hardly a new trend—James Ford Rhodes, in his History of the Civil War (1917), was one of those historians targeted as underappreciating the general by biographers Eckenrode and Conrad—but it now accelerated. In his Lincoln Finds a General, for example, Kenneth P. Williams apparently decided not to take McClellan’s word on anything. McClellan was not a real general, came his final accounting. . . . McClellan was merely an attractive but vain and unstable man, with considerable military knowledge, who sat a horse well and wanted to be President. T. Hany Williams reached a similar if less colorful conclusion: McClellan was not a fighting man, he wrote in Lincoln and His Generals. In Lincoln’s mind, McClellan stood for strategy, preparation, delay, and at the best, barren victories. In Bruce Catton’s Mr. Lincoln’s Army, the first volume of a trilogy on the Army of the Potomac, the story told of McClellan is a self-induced tragedy of one missed opportunity after another until, finally, his part was finished. Catton, in his subsequent Centennial History of the Civil War, and Allan Nevins, in The War for the Union, both of them major multivolume works employing extensive original-source research, made affirmation of these negative findings concerning General McClellan.¹²

In 1957, in the midst of this trend and apparently in reaction to it, Penn State historian Warren W. Hassler, Jr., published a new military biography, General George B. McClellan: Shield of the Union. Attended by full scholarly apparatus, with the imprint of a university press, it purported to be a balanced and objective accounting—by inference, the first such. In reality, the work falls squarely within the friendly and forgiving tradition of McClellan biography. The generals word is taken on all controverted issues and occasions; fault lies wholly with his subordinates, with his intelligence service, with his radical Republican opponents in Washington who delude Mr. Lincoln and undermine the president’s faith in the general. George McClellan is revealed, in summary, as a soldier of superior strategic and tactical ability. . . . Political enmity toward him was largely his undoing.

Hassler achieved this effect by careful and very selective use of sources and documents, especially the McClellan papers, in apparent emulation of the writings by the general himself. Nothing untoward is disclosed from the contents of McClellan’s letters to his wife, for example; William Prime’s sanitized versions are quoted instead. Nothing is found amiss in the general’s flight from the Glendale and Malvern Hill battlefields, as if this were conduct expected of an army commander. The depths of all the major controversies—at which level in truth General McClellan is invariably to be found as one of the perpetrators—are never plumbed. Instead, the causes and the blame remain just where McClellan long ago assigned them. James Russell Lowell could as easily have said of this work, as he said of McClellan’s 1864 Report, that its author makes affidavit in one volume octavo that General McClellan is a great military genius, after all.¹³

This widening gap in interpretation between McClellan’s biographers and the historians writing general accounts and studies of the war was investigated in Joseph Harsh’s 1973 article On the McClellan-Go-Round. Harsh argued that there must be a middle ground between the two camps, a pathway that would lead to a better and truer understanding of the general, if only historians would pay serious attention to McClellan’s ideas, beliefs and expressed intentions and then recognize the fact that these do help explain his behavior.¹⁴ Taking up this challenge, and following where the original sources

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